Penina Pasifika light up Ballymore as Reds bank 17-7 thriller

Sat, Feb 24, 2024, 10:00 AM
Lachlan Grey
by Lachlan Grey

The Queensland Reds women have banked their first win of 2024 but Saturday’s 17-7 trial victory was all about their rivals – Penina Pasifika.

Backed by the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports program, Penina Pasifika – dubbed the ‘Pearls’ – represents a new side combining the best women’s rugby players from Tonga and Samoa.

February 24 marked their first ever game but few would believe it as the Pearls opened up a 7-5 halftime before falling just short against last year’s Super W finalists.

Penina coach Eddie Aholelei told he couldn’t be prouder of his side’s inaugural hit-out.

“To come in for one week and put in the performance they did today was awesome,” Aholelei said.

“Imagine how good they’re going to be after more time together. We were really focused on our set piece and bringing that physicality and I think we were able to get some ascendency in those areas today.”

Penina captain Nina Foaese said she was excited to go one step further when the Pearls tackle NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies over the coming weeks.

“It felt good out there, we felt really connected out on the field. We’ve only had a week together and we’re only going to get better so I’m proud of the girls and for what comes next,” Foaese said.

Penina’s physicality set Ballymore alight early with a string of brutal carries and two tighthead scrum in the opening exchanges firing up a pro-Pasifika crowd before Wallaroos duo Ivania Wong and Sarah Dougherty hit back with half-breaks of their own to turn momentum Queensland’s way.

Penina struggled to retain possession in greasy conditions and the dam wall eventually burst after 21 minutes with Reds winger Caitlin Urwin latching onto a deft cross-field kick and finishing out wide for a 5-0 lead.

It took a desperate Mel Wilks goal-line turnover in the 35th minute to stop an immediate reply but the Pearls weren’t to be denied, scoring through Vineta Teutau on the hooter to lead 7-5 at oranges.

A yellow card to Dougherty and missed penalty touch-finder inside Penina’s 22 hurt the Reds early in the second stanza with the visitors starting to gain the upper hand.

A huge play threatened to swing momentum Queensland’s way in the 65th minute with Tania Naden and Grace Sullivan forcing Penina over their own try-line.

However the Pearls refused to budge, winning another tighthead scrum to repel the Reds once more.

Back-to-back kick errors then saw the Reds pinned back inside their own half and with 10 minutes to play, Penina found themselves back in the driver’s seat.

Enter April Ngatunpuna.

The cross-code forward produced three barnstorming runs in less than a minute to rocket the Reds upfield, leaving USA recruit Charli Jacoby to drive across the chalk from close range in the 76th minute.

Wilks’ conversion put Queensland ahead 12-7 and it was effectively game over when reserve halfback Nat Wright trapped Penina inside their own goal-line with 30 seconds to play.

A final flurry from set-piece saw Wilks cross in overtime for a final score of 17-7, leaving coach Grant Anderson pleased with their second hit-out of the year.

“We were really pleased with our physicality, we knew we’d need to front up and I think we managed that today,” Anderson told

“I was happy with our defence as well, we tackled well and folded well and knew towards the back end of the game we could get some ascendency with our fitness so to score those two late tries was really pleasing.”

Anderson rated Ngatunpuna and Wilks among his side’s best alongside the returning Liza Patu, who made a huge impact in her return just eight months from the birth of her son.

“April did really well for us from number eight, it was great to see her get the ball and carry hard and you know Mel Wilks always delivers, as the Milkman always does.

“(Liz) was outstanding when she came on. She’s been such a good example around the group of setting behaviours and her experience is invaluable as well.”

“It’s amazing to see her back in a Queensland Reds jersey and I wouldn’t say she’s retired from the Wallaroos just yet.”

Penina Pasifika is the continuation of the Australian Government's investment in the development of Rugby throughout the Pacific through the PacificAus Sports program and follows significant investment to support Pacific Rugby pathways in partnership with Oceania Rugby.